Pinot Noir is considered by many to be the most temperamental, difficult, and overall challenging grape varietal a vintner can grow. It has a high susceptibility to rot, viruses and diseases. It has a thin skin which can easily get sunburned, and often needs cooler climates than some varietals to mature properly. High quality grapes are required to make a good Pinot Noir, different from some other varietals that can make decent wine from not the best grape. And does best in limestone and clay soils with good drainage. A bad Pinot Noir is often flabby, overly jammy and fruit forward, and often quite uninteresting. However, when Pinot Noir is done well it is considered by many, including me, to one of the (if not the) best varietals produced, whether that be a Grand Cru from Burgundy or a earth laden Willamette Valley gem, or a lush Russian River or Carneros beauty. Pinot Noir can be the best expression of a varietal when handled with care and consideration. Here are a few that are worth trying soon. Some selections were sent for editorial consideration.
Willamette Valley’s Stoller Vineyards was the first LEED Certified winery in the United States, attaining the Gold designation. Using solar power and gravity-flow it combines green, environment friendly practices with modern wine-making and sustainability, creating some of the finest Pinot Noir in the area. Made from 100% estate fruit, with each individual estate block hand harvested, processed and barrel aged separately to ensure all fruit is picked at its optimal time. 2007 Stoller Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir comes from some of the oldest blocks of Pinot Noir on the Stoller Estate and is filled with layers of vanilla, baking spices, red fruit and the musky, earthiness which shines through in many of the stunning Pinot Noir offerings from Willamette Valley.
2007 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir from Wairau Valley in Marlborough, New Zealand, is intense and hearty, filled with fragrant blueberry and black plum aromas with spiced nutmeg and cedar. Grapes were had harvested, left on their skins from an average of 3 weeks during fermentation, then pressed and the juice was transferred to oak barrels where malolactic fermentation occurred and then left to age in oak for almost a year creating a rich, hearty wine with dark fruit, caramel and toast flavors and plush tannins.
2009 Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir comes from vineyards located in Green Valley, Sonoma Valley and Russian River Valley in Sonoma County is structured, elegant and interesting. Filled with bold flavors of cherry, raspberry and cola with broad tannins giving a good mouthfeel and complexity now, but lends itself to aging a bit. Bottled without fining or filtration, this is an excellent representation of Pinot Noir from California done right.
Biltmore makes a lively Pinot Noir from Russian River grapes as well. Their 2009 is a deep cherry red with aromas of blackberry, cherry and a hint of toasty vanilla from the 14 months of French and American oak aging. A full bodied Pinot Noir with good depth and ability to age for several years to come.
Santa Lucia Highlands is a region that was made to grow smoky Syrah and bold Pinot Noir. Gary Franscioni and Gary Pisoni planted their 50 acre vineyard, Gary’s Vineyard,in 1995. They sell much of their grapes to winemakers in the region, including Vision Cellars, Siduri and Miner Family Vineyards. All make stunning, single vineyard PinotNoir from their juice, highlighting the characteristics of the terroir with balanced acidity, age worthy tannins and earthy, smoky, spicy qualities with a great expression of the dense, red fruit.